Thursday, 17 April 2008

Reduction writing

An interesting observation in Janet Evanovich’s book about how she writes is her assertion that: ‘I strongly believe in reduction writing. It’s like reduction in cooking.’ At first this left me baffled, given that I’m hopeless at cooking and I’ve never heard of reduction in cooking. But she went on to explain: ‘When you make gravy, you take a big pot of ingredients – meat, spices – and you boil it down to a little pot of stuff, which is the essence.’ And she added: ‘If you use that principle in writing, you’re getting two terrific sentences rather than four long, tedious paragraphs.’

This is pretty useful advice, I think. Evanovich says, ‘Whilst my writing may give the impression of simple and effortless, it actually takes me hours to get it to appear that way.’ Entirely believable; I’m sure the same was true of the smoothly accomplished Michael Gilbert, about whom I’ve posted several times lately.

Writers who favour reduction writing may do their utmost to reduce their work as they go along. Or they may leave much of the work until after they have completed the first draft. I tend to be in the latter group. I’m a great believer in revision .You really wouldn’t want to read my first drafts! But the process of working away at a manuscript is really one of continuous improvement.

This is why, when talking to beginning writers, I encourage them just to get words down on paper (or on screen.) Once the words are written, they can always be improved, reduced, whatever. With writing, if not with politics, things can only get better.

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